First HIV vaccine study in seven years underway

28 Nov 2016

Image: Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

An experimental HIV vaccine regimen is being tested in South Africa, a new version of the only candidate ever to “provide some protection” against the virus.

A new weapon in the fight against HIV is being trialled at the moment, the first time such a project has been undertaken in seven years.

The study, called HVTN 702, will enrol 5,400 people and ultimately prove the largest ever of its kind in South Africa.


The vaccine regimen being tested is based on one trialled in Thailand in 2009, which delivered promising results when it was shown to prevent infection, “albeit modestly”.

“If deployed alongside our current armoury of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV,” said Anthony S Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health and a co-funder of the trial.

“Even a moderately effective vaccine would significantly decrease the burden of HIV disease over time in countries and populations with high rates of infection, such as South Africa.”

An estimated 1,000 people contract HIV daily in South Africa, with the team behind the study hoping to improve on the Thai results, which showed a 31.2pc success rate in preventing infection over the 3.5-year follow-up after vaccination.

“The people of South Africa are making history by conducting and participating in the first HIV vaccine efficacy study to build on the results of the Thai trial,” said Glenda Gray, protocol chair of the study.

“HIV has taken a devastating toll in South Africa, but now we begin a scientific exploration that could hold great promise for our country. If a vaccine were found to work in South Africa, it could dramatically alter the course of the pandemic.”

In March, researchers looked at using the CRISPR-Cas9 technique to eliminate HIV from sufferers’ DNA.

The presence of numerous copies of HIV in the human genome weakens the immune system and eventually causes AIDS, so slicing into the T cell (where HIV-1 sits) and removing the unwanted elements could prove an incredible solution.

Testing their process on infected cells, the team led by Kamel Khalili claimed that removing the problem sequences results in the complete genome repairing itself and reuniting completely, with no side effects.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic